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Orioles Season Preview: Rutschman the biggest name, but questions persist at catcher

Orioles Season Preview: Rutschman the biggest name, but questions persist at catcher

The Orioles catcher of the future isn’t a secret. As for their catcher of the present, well, that’s still left to be decided. 

Baltimore drafted Adley Rutschman first overall in 2019 and, for all intents and purposes, appear ready for him to make the major league jump for the 2021 season as the team’s starting catcher. 

For now, though, the Orioles will have seven catchers at spring training — including three on the 40-man roster (Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns). The non-roster invitees are: Martin Cervenka, Taylor Davis, Bryan Holaday and Rutschman. 

Severino appeared in 96 games last season and had 341 plate appearances. He slashed .249/.321/.420 and had 13 home runs. Behind the plate, he had 655 putouts and a fielding percentage of .988. Just 26 years old, the former Washington National appears to be the catcher with the best path to starting on Opening Day. 

After that, it gets dicey. 

Chance Sisco, who once was near the top of prospect lists for catchers across the major leagues, appeared in 59 games last season but slashed just .210/.333/.395 in a backup role behind Severino. While he’s got the inside track with his major league experience, his bat remains a question mark, which could lead the way to Austin Wynns securing the spot. 

Wynns played in just 28 games and also struggled at the plate and had a slash of .214/.247/.271.

Those three are on the 40-man roster, while the others at spring training are the aforementioned group of non-roster invitees. 

Rutschman is the biggest name of the bunch, which is fairly obvious. But with some time before he plays at Camden Yards, there’s still a waiting period for him to make big-league contributions. Still, his progress will be the most important development at the catcher position for the Orioles as a franchise. 

Last season, he hit .254 and had 13 extra-base hits in 37 games at the bottom of the minor leagues. He’s expected to start this season in single-A Frederick or Delmarva. 

While there will be a competition at catcher, the position — at least organizationally — isn’t a strong one. 

Holaday, 32, is the eldest of the seven catchers in camp but likely won’t contribute much to the Orioles. Meaning, there’s not much to do for the franchise except wait for help to come in the form of Rutschman. 

Aside from the former Oregon State Beaver, there aren’t any catching prospects in the top 30 of the Orioles farm system, according to MLB.com. 

The Orioles drafted Stanford catcher Maverick Handley in the 6th round of last year’s draft and added Jordan Cannon in the 10th round, but there’s still a waiting period for the Orioles to get their catcher of the future.

The upside, though, is that he’s already in spring training.  

Non-Roster invitees:

Martin Cervenka

Taylor Davis

Bryan Holaday

Adley Rutschman

40-Man Roster:

Pedro Severino

Chance Sisco

Austin Wynns

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Best Orioles of the Century: A veteran-heavy list of first base options

Best Orioles of the Century: A veteran-heavy list of first base options

With fans stuck inside and no live sports for entertainment, it's time to look to the past. Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports Washington is putting together a Best of the Century team for the Baltimore Orioles. Through the past two decades, there has been a surprising amount of star power to come through Charm City, and now we can determine who has truly been the cream of the crop.

We started with catcher yesterday, and now it's time for the first basemen.

This is another position that saw more than its fair share of turnover in the first decade of the century, only to finally stabilize as the Orioles briefly became one of the best teams in baseball.

Names like Jeff Conine, Rafael Palmeiro (for a second time), Kevin Millar, Aubrey Huff, Ty Wiggington, Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee littered box scores until 2012, when Chris Davis solidifed himself as one of the best hitters in baseball.

Most of these names found success at various points in their careers, but much of it came in other cities and decades. Still, it's an eclectic group to man the position, giving Baltimore some of its biggest names during its leanest years.

Here are the top contenders at first base, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Jeff Conine (2000-03, 2006)

Conine spent most of the 1990s experiencing moderate success with the Marlins. He made a couple of All-Star Games, but his 1999 arrival wasn't overly exciting as a replacement for the legendary Rafael Palmeiro. He was the first Oriole first baseman of the century, however, and he played the second-most games at the position of anybody.

2001 was his best season in Baltimore thanks to his .311 batting average, but he hit just 14 home runs. As a first baseman in the heart of the Steroid Era, that just wasn't enough. More than his on-field production, Conine provided clubhouse leadership as a World Series champion veteran who joined the team at 33 years old.

Kevin Millar (2006-08)

Millar also got started with the Marlins before coming to Baltimore, though he is best known for his stop in Boston in between the two franchises. He helped the Red Sox snap their title drought during the iconic 2004 World Series run before coming to Baltimore two years later.

Millar was yet another veteran free-agent signing, joining the Orioles at the age of 34. He hit 15, 17, and 20 home runs in his three seasons in Baltimore, never amassing more than 1.3 WAR in a single season. 

He was also known as an outspoken jokester, parlaying his experiences in Boston into a role as clubhouse leader with the Orioles, before eventually retiring to become a talk show host for MLB Network. 

Chris Davis (2011-present)

Like Wieters for catchers, Davis is not only the longest-tenured Oriole this century, but also the one whose rise coincided with the team's return to relevance.

It's no surprise Davis' best seasons came from 2012-16, the five-year stretch in which Baltimore made three postseason appearances and won more games than any team in the American League. Interestingly, Davis' two best years, 2013 and 2015, came in the two seasons the Orioles missed the playoffs. But even his "down" seasons during this stretch saw him rank among the most feared sluggers in all of baseball.

Today, Davis is remembered for his mammoth strikeout totals, rather than his mammoth power. He's also derided as one of the most overpaid players in the sport. But during his five-year reign of terror against opposing pitchers? He was a sight to behold.

The big first baseman - who, thanks to his athleticism also saw time at third base, in the outfield and even on the mound - averaged 39.4 home runs per season, despite missing chunks of games in two of them. To put that in perspective, the Major League leaders in home runs in each of those seasons averaged 43.8, and again, Davis missed significant time twice.

Davis' athleticism made him a strong defender at first with an even stronger swing at the plate. The Orioles' gamble on him in a 2011 trade with the Rangers paid off better than any fan could have possibly imagined.

The Winner

This was another particularly easy choice, with Chris Davis the runaway winner for Best Oriole of the century at first base.

Once again, longevity plays a key role here, with Davis' 1,135 games in Baltimore dwarfing both Conine (612) and Millar (417) this century. And, much like catcher, Davis is the only contender who will be remembered as an Oriole first and foremost.

But peak seasons weigh heavily in Davis' favor as well. The powerful first baseman set an Orioles record with 53 home runs in 2013, easily leading the league. And it wasn't a case of a juiced ball - only one other player, Miguel Cabrera with 44 - had more than 36 home runs. Davis also led baseball in RBI and total bases that season, a remarkable year for the ages.

His top-three MVP finish in 2013 was the high point in a career full of powerful swings. In 2015, Davis led the league in home runs again, this time with 47.

Though the high strikeout totals eventually caught up to him, and his contract remains one of the most notrious albatrosses in baseball history, Davis' impact from 2012-2016 cannot be overstated. Conine and Millar had fun stretches and were clubhouse leaders, but their combined career WAR in Baltimore (7.7) barely surpasses Davis in 2013 alone (7.1).

Davis' was the best power hitter on the best power-hitting team in baseball for a five-year stretch. He is the obvious choice as first baseman of the century in Baltimore.

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Baltimore native and Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline dies at 85

Baltimore native and Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline dies at 85

Baltimore native and Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline died on Monday, a friend of Kaline's confirmed to the Associated Press. He was 85.

Kaline was born in Baltimore and grew up in Charm City, where he attended Southern High School. After moving from pitcher to outfield, Kaline earned All-State honors all four years.

After a standout high school career, Kaline was signed by the Detroit Tigers.  Just months after his high school career concluded, Kaline made his Major League debut in June of 1953 at age 18.

Kaline spent all 22 years of his Major League Baseball career with Detroit. At age 20, he won the American League batting title in 1955. Kaline was named an All-Star 18 times in his career and was a member of the World Series champion Tigers team in 1968.

The outfielder was one of four players in the sport's history to have 10 or more Gold Glove Awards and over 3,000 hits, joining Willie Mays, Ichiro Suzuki, and Roberto Clemente.

Kaline joins Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken as Hall of Famers with a strong connection to the city of Baltimore.

After retiring in 1976, Kaline served on the Tigers broadcast team until 2002. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.

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